Irma

Hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico.

NOAA.gov

As Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean on Wednesday, emergency and utility officials closer to home began preparations for its potential impact in The T&D Region.

Residents are encouraged to do the same.

"The public needs to pay close attention and be prepared to handle the storm," Orangeburg County Emergency Services Director Billy Staley said.

"They need to have supply kits and have a hurricane plan that includes what your family is going to do during the storm,” he said.

Staley spent Wednesday on conference calls with other emergency response partners as well as towns to discuss the forecast. The department is also checking with towns and cities to identify any particular needs they may have.

It’s too early to say what the impact will be on the state, “but now is the time to prepare,” Staley said.

"We want everybody to stay aware over the weekend," he said. "The track keeps shifting and the track will continue to shift over the five-day window.”

Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities spokesman Randy Etters said, “We are very concerned about the path of the storm because of the direction and which side of the eyewall Orangeburg will be on.

"The eastern side sustains more damage with the wind."

Utility officials have been watching the forecast closely and conducting preliminary storm preparedness measures.

It is also making sure its reservation and lodging protocol is in place in case it needs outside crews.

Etters said the utility's maintenance department conducted clearing and vegetative maintenance after Hurricane Matthew last October.

City of Orangeburg officials met Wednesday to ensure employees are ready for the impact. City Administrator John Yow said meetings have stressed the importance of safety.

"We are making sure our engines are serviced and tanks are filled," Yow said. "We want to make sure we have safety barricades loaded onto correct trucks just in case we need to close down any roads."

Yow also noted the city's information technology infrastructure is up and operational.

"We lost our phone lines and our IT operations during Matthew," Yow said. "Those guys worked around the clock to restore it."

Yow said the city routinely checks drainage areas.

Calhoun County Emergency Services Director Bill Minikiewicz said Wednesday was spent in conference calls with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. He’s planning for a meeting Thursday with all county firefighters, school and city administration officials to ensure all are kept abreast of plans.

If the storm continues to hug the Florida coast, it could weaken slightly due to the eyewall being slightly over land, Minikiewicz said.

"It is still early to know," Minikiewicz said. "We will know a lot by the weekend."

Bamberg County officials are reminding individuals to rely on trustworthy news services such as the National Weather Service.

Emergency Services Director Brittany Barnwell says individuals who evacuate need to make sure they have a copy of the evacuation route, which can be found at www.sctraffic.org.

People who are evacuating should fill their gas tanks in advance of the storm and confirm a destination prior to leaving: a relative’s home, a hotel, or an evacuation shelter.

"Always avoid flood situations while walking or driving," Barnwell said. "It takes very little water to move a vehicle or person."

Barnwell says every family should have a “disaster supply kit” packed and ready for an extreme weather event.

Barnwell says she has a conference call planned for Thursday with the county’s mayors and school superintendents.

She has also been in contact with code enforcement officials to ensure equipment and gas tanks are filled with fuel.

S.C. Department of Transportation District 7 Residence Maintenance Engineer Michelle Lambright said the department is ready.

"We are preparing our equipment and advising our personnel to make sure we have the proper traffic control devices in place," she said. "We are out in the field monitoring the areas and checking to see if all the drains are open."

She said crews are going to check all evacuation signs to make sure they are in place and visible.

"I am hoping it does not come," she said. "If it does come, we are ready and prepared and are hoping everyone will get though it safely."

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Business Reporter

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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